Engineering Microbial Metal Recovery (EMMR)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences


The Engineering Microbial Metal Recovery (EMMR) consortium brings together a unique group of world-renowned academics to develop an entirely new approach for recovering valuable metals from the expanding supplies of electronic waste (e-waste), that is currently destined for disposal as landfill. Using the tools of genetic engineering, will be fine-tune naturally-occurring bacteria to recognise and accumulate metals including gold and "rare earth elements" that are common in discarded phones and batteries. Gold is one of the most valuable metals lost in e-waste, and the rare earth elements are a limited resource that are required to power our growing green economy (being vital components of electric car batteries, wind turbines and other green energy technologies). Working with industrial partners, we will test our engineered bacteria against real wastes from industry, helping convert the 40 million plus tonne global e-waste problem, to a resource that can help power the global circular economy.

Technical Summary

The aim of the Engineering Microbial Metal Recovery (EMMR) consortium is to use genetic engineering to deliver a platform technology for metal removal and biorecovery. Focusing on a robust and scalable bacterial system (Shewanella), with well-known capabilities to recover high oxidation waste metals as valuable nanoparticles, we will expand the portfolio of metals that can be targeted to include emerging e-tech metals that are currently difficult and costly to recycle. Two exemplars have been selected; Au (toxic and redox active) and REEs (non-redox active and difficult to treat). A range of novel approaches will be combined to develop a flexible platform technology that can be used to compartmentalise the chosen metal in discrete locations within the microbial cell, facilitating selective removal from complex matrices and where required the formation of functional biominerals of commercial potential. Links with key industrial partners will be facilitated by the BBSRC E3B NIBB, including companies developing consumer e-waste re-cycling (Mint: Au) and battery/catalysis technologies (JM: REEs). The EMMR project will deliver solutions for emerging and critical sector (e-waste recycling), while delivering a platform technology that can be developed for other biotechnological applications, including bioremediation and metal recovery from mine wastes, nuclear clean-up and bionanotechnology. Developing follow-on applications in these sectors, alongside scale-up and implementation plans for EMMR technologies to e-waste recycling will be an explicit output of this 24 month project.


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